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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 11298


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (18:36): I rise to support the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. I believe it is good legislation that will deliver a more equitable service throughout Australia. I will pick up on one of the points the previous speaker made about the school dental service. The states and territories will be encouraged to continue to operate as they do now. However, the federal government will now be paying for these services. So it will not be a duplication; it will be building and making sure the scheme that is in operation at the moment operates more efficiently, effectively and as a uniform scheme. I know that in my state of New South Wales the school dental scheme is all but non-existent.

The bill will extend the age range of people eligible to receive the dental service to children aged between two and 18 years. This will be replacing the Medicare Teen Dental Plan, which is for 12- to 18-year-olds and at the same time it will be rolling back and closing the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Under the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, children will be entitled to $1,000 in treatment over a two-year period.

If I could say at the outset: this scheme is a very targeted scheme. It is targeted towards addressing the issue of dental health when it really counts—at the beginning, from the age of two, developing good dental health practices and making it affordable for families that are unable to afford dental health.

The Chronic Disease Dental Scheme has helped some people who needed help, but it has helped a lot of people who did not need help. I was talking to my own dentist recently. He was telling me how one of his patients had been referred to him for assistance under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme because they had an ingrown toenail. To my way of thinking, somebody who has an ingrown toenail is not in as great a need of dental health care as a young person whose parents cannot afford to access dental treatment. If they have poor dental hygiene, it will impact on their overall health for the whole of their life. So this is a scheme that is targeted to address dental health at its core, the time when people are developing the dental hygiene practices that will stay with them for life and ensuring that people, children, have good dental health.

In the electorate of Shortland, this change will help 16,794 children. That is 981 families that will benefit from this change. And it will be directing the services to those people who need it as opposed to some people who can actually afford to pay for their own dental health, because, currently, if you are a millionaire, and your doctor will complete the form saying you have a chronic health problem, then you can access a scheme that will deliver $4,250 worth of dental care to you over a two-year period.

This is part of the government's $4.1 billion dental reform package that was announced on 29 August this year. With the replacement of the Medicare Teen Dental Plan, that will take place on 1 January 2014. So, up until that time, we will still be targeting that teenage group. We know that the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme concludes at the end of November. As I mentioned earlier, it is poorly targeted. People were being assessed as being eligible for it when they probably should not have. I know of another case where an elderly woman of 90 was unable to access the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, even though she had a chronic illness—she had a serious heart condition and was very ill—because her doctor was reluctant to complete the forms. Finally, after a lot of advice and a lot of help from me, she managed to be deemed eligible for the program—a pensioner, somebody who needed it—to address her dental health issues. She got to see the dentist two weeks before she died.

So it is a program that was designed to help people with chronic illness, and it did help some people that should be targeted for these types of programs, but it also did help a lot of people who could afford to provide for their own dental health. It did help a lot of people who did not have chronic illnesses and it also did not help people who needed to access the service, because there was not a proper understanding of the way the system works. So it was a poorly thought-out program. When it was introduced it was deemed that it would cost $90 million per year and now it is running at $1 billion a year. So, obviously, it was not costed properly—and we know that members of the opposition do have problems with costing their documents and budgeting, because they do have a $70 billion black hole where they cannot explain where the money will be coming from. I sit here and think it is quite ludicrous when I hear questions and rhetoric coming from the other side of the House. Their financial record, ability to cost policies, lay out their programs and prove to the Australian people that they are fiscally responsible are abysmal.

This program, and this legislation we have before us, is really quality legislation—legislation that is going to help so many young people and legislation that, when combined with the other initiatives that the government has in place, will really do something about providing access to dental health services to people who cannot afford them, who are disadvantaged at the moment and who are unable to deal with their dental health issues.

I am sure most members of this House know how important it is to have good dental health, because if you do not it can affect your overall health. If you get a serious infection it can lead to hospitalisation and to problems with your heart and other organs of the body. So it is vitally important not only that people who are financially able can access dental treatment but also that people on low to middle incomes are able to see a dentist in a timely fashion.

This initiative is combined with the $5.15 million announced in the last budget that will be directed towards a blitz on the public dental health list. It is to enable people who cannot afford to go to a dentist and who do not have private health insurance, simply because they cannot afford it, to access the treatment they need. This is what the government is all about. It is about providing access to dental health services to all Australians, not just select groups.

Targeting your funding and assistance so that the most people can benefit from it is exactly what this government is doing with its dental health program. It does not surprise me to hear those on the other side are saying no and standing up for millionaires to continue receiving benefits under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. When that program was introduced it would have been much better if there had been a means testing component placed on it, but that did not happen, because those on the other side of this parliament are not the friends of people such as the pensioners and those people who look to government for assistance.

The government has been trying to shut down the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme since 2007, because we want to replace it with a more effective scheme. What we think we have here is a suite of schemes and proposals, a way of attacking dental health across the board, that will benefit everyone.

We want to tackle poor oral health head-on. Kids, particularly, in families that have lower incomes, and even some people in lower-middle-income families, do not have access to the dental treatment that they should. One of the most disturbing facts is that decay amongst children has been on the rise since 1990. There was a point, when I was younger, when most children accepted the fact that they would have to visit the dentist, and that would mean fillings and extractions. If you look at many of our older Australians you will find that dentures are commonplace, and that is just the way it was. But then we turned the corner and dental health, our children's health, started to improve. For my own children a visit to the dentist involved being told, 'You are doing a really good job with your teeth. They are perfect.' That is the change from my day and from back further. There has been a generational change. When you hear that dental decay amongst children has been rising since 1990 it says to me that we are not attacking the problem properly. So, the government has developed policies that will address the issue and ensure that those one in five children in our lowest income households, who have not been to a dentist in over five years, will be able to afford to go to the dentist.

I implore the opposition to look at this in a more holistic way. Look at it in a way where you can see the benefits it will deliver to the majority of Australians, not just a select group. The children of Australia need the opposition to support this legislation. They need them to adopt a responsible approach to dental care, and they need to acknowledge the fact that the government has put a lot more money into addressing dental health waiting lists. Those who come from states where there are coalition governments need to go back and make sure that those coalition governments do not rip money out of the dental health schemes, just as they have ripped it out of education and health.